Gov. Mark Sanford checked in with his chief-of-staff this morning from his hike on the Appalachian Trail, one day after his disappearing act got the country buzzing.
"It would be fair to say the governor was somewhat taken aback by all of the interest this trip has gotten," press secretary Joel Sawyer said. "Given the circumstances and the attention this has garnered, the governor communicated to us that he plans on returning to the office tomorrow." Sanford did not say where he was on the trail or how many voicemail messages he had, Sawyer said.
The governor ditched his security detail last Thursday and took a state vehicle on a trip without telling his wife or the state's top law enforcement officer where he went.
Sanford, who is very health conscious, has said publicly that goes for runs without his security.
Officials with SLED did not return phone calls or e-mails Monday seeking information about the governor's use of the agency's vehicles.
State Sen. John M. "Jake" Knotts, Jr., a retired law enforcement officer, released a statement Tuesday. "I'm happy to hear that Governor Sanford has finally contacted his office after being missing from the state for five days," he said. "While I believe every person deserves a vacation, our constitution gives only one man authority to act in case of an emergency — the Governor of South Carolina. Should the Governor decide to vacation away from South Carolina again, it is my sincere hope that he will take his security detail and keep his cell phone on so that he can be reached in case of a large-scale emergency. If he is not willing to do so, he should turn his gubernatorial authority over to the Lt. Governor."
Knotts also said that he had many questions about Sanford's use of a state vehicle.
He said a SLED vehicle assigned to the governor likely had weaponry, armor, blue lights and other features "that can sustain the protection of the officers and the passengers."
He said people who drive such vehicles typically must be commissioned law enforcement officers.
"Let's just say this: I'm a retired police officer with 30 years of service, and I can't go out there and get in a SLED vehicle and drive it away." He said if an unauthorized person drove off in a SLED vehicle, "they would be in jail."
He said he had other questions about the use of a state vehicle. "Where was this vehicle parked? In the Atlanta airport? Or an Appalachian trail parking lot? And how would the state Insurance Reserve justify it if there were a wreck?"
Knotts said the situation raises questions about Sanford's leadership. "He talks about running South Carolina like a business, but I don't know of any business executive who takes off without leaving his assistant in charge and accountable to the people."
Senate Minority Leader John Land, D-Manning, said he does not know of any other governors who have had a similar relationship with the State Law Enforcement Division.
Land is one of the longest serving state lawmakers, first elected to the House in 1975 and having served in the Senate since 1977.
"It's just a courtesy to tell SLED where you're going to be," Land said.
The governor is in charge of the South Carolina National Guard, the Department of Public Safety and the penal system, among other state agencies.
"If some emergency happens, he has the authority to act," Land said. "If he does not vest the lieutenant governor with that authority, that leaves the state in a precarious situation."
Land said he finds the governor's behavior to be weird and erratic.
"When your wife and family don't know where you are, that's really strange," Land said. "What kind of husband and father would leave his family without telling his family where he is and how to get in touch with him? That's a really strange action on a married man's part, and on Father's Day."
Land and his wife of 43 years have three children.
Brian King, spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, based in Harpers Ferry, W.V., said Sanford's visit coincided with Sunday' s Naked Hiking Day. The conservancy isn't exactly sure how Naked Hiking Day originated, but word of it crops up every so often on a slow news day, King said.
The group thinks the holiday originated with a Chicago sports columnist about 15 years ago. King said he didn't know if there were any naked hikers this year because he didn't go and check.
Whether it's illegal to be naked on a public trail depends on where the hiker is. The trail runs through 14 states and about 250 jurisdictions, where in a lot of places indecent exposure would apply. In a recent year, Maryland police arrested eight naked hikers observing the day. About 3.5 million to 4 million hikers use the trail every year.
"The point is, it's pretty self indulgent to go and get their jollies on public land where there are families," King said.
King said he doesn't have any information on where Sanford was hiking. On longer trips, the conservancy recommends that long-distance hikers leave an itinerary at home and check in periodically. But for a shorter trip, like Sanford's, King said he doesn't know if many people would observe the recommendations.
King said he is happy to know that the governor thought of the Appalachian Trail as a good getaway.
"The whole idea with the trail was to get away from the stress of modern life," King said. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is also known for taking time off after the Legislative session to take his children hiking on the trail, King said.
Nothing in the state Constitution requires the governor to announce his travel plans, or even to declare when he is out of state.
In fact, beyond the line of succession, the Constitution is vague on many of the movements surrounding the governor, though it does allow for the lieutenant governor to take over for the governor's absence during an emergency.
Article 4, Section 11 covers only the "removal of the Governor from office by impeachment, death, resignation, disqualification, disability, or removal from the State, (that) the Lieutenant Governor shall be Governor."
It reads that "In the case of the temporary disability of the Governor and in the event of the temporary absence of the Governor from the State, the Lieutenant Governor shall have full authority to act in an emergency."
Temporary absence and temporary disability are not defined further.
An Attorney General's opinion from the 1970s concludes the lieutenant governor possesses authority to extradite prisoners in the governor's absence. The lieutenant governor can determine when an emergency exists, it says.
Sen. Glenn McConnell announced Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation similar to federal law that would mandate security coverage for the lieutenant governor and governor Governor that would protect the order of succession in South Carolina.
"While we can all sympathize with Mark Sanford's need for rest and relaxation, these are issues that are bigger than a single person and fundamentally affect how we operate as a state government should there be a crisis or an emergency that requires prompt action and response. This is vitally important in post 9-11 world," McConnell said in a statement.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said first, he hopes the governor is safe. Secondly, Harrell said he hopes Sanford has a good explanation as to why he's been out of touch all this time.
"If a governor is going to go off by himself where he cannot be reached and without his security, then he should have to transfer that authority during that period of time," Harrell said. "But the real answer is a governor shouldn't do those things."
Harrell said he wanted more information before he commented on the governor's judgment: "I have difficulty passing judgment on someone or something until I have all the facts and I have to believe there's some rational explanation for all of this. I want to hear that before I express judgment on the things I don't know."
Former Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges said while he served from 1999 to 2003 the SLED detail was like family.
"They were always with me," he said. "Their job is to be with you at all times to keep you in contact, not only for your safety but as a lifeline to other government officials in the event there were problems."
Hodges, who lost his re-election bid to Sanford, said the SLED detail went on vacation with his family. During his administration, Hodges said the family was vacationing on Fripp Island when he needed to leave to get back to the Statehouse to deal with the firestorm over the Confederate battle flag. Another time, the family was away when a tornado hit Myrtle Beach and local officials asked Hodges to come and help reassure tourists that the area was safe to come visit.
Some instances only a governor can handle, Hodges said, such has helping to close a business deal or offering incentives for a company to stay in the state, he said.
The issue is not whether an emergency would arise, Hodges said. "You never know when a crisis is going to strike the state or the country; you can't afford to be out of touch when that happens," Hodges said.
Hodges said the only time he recalls leaving without a security detail was drop his children off at school before the SLED agent had arrived for the day.
"I saw the look on the SLED agent's face and that's all it took," Hodges said.
He added, "I don't ever recall any instances of driving a state vehicle or them not being around."
As for Sanford's chances as a candidate for the 2012 presidential election, Hodges said the governor should focus on his second term. Sanford has dismissed talk of running for president, but his name is frequently mentioned among some conservative groups.
"He needs to worry about the job he has and not the one he wants," Hodges said.